Policing of Black Lives Matter Protests in the UK Was 'Institutionally Racist', Report Says

Netpol collected the experiences of over 100 witnesses, including protesters and legal observers, at BLM marches across the UK this year.
November 12, 2020, 12:01am
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Photo: Chris Bethell. 

Policing of Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests across the UK was “institutionally racist,” a new report from police monitoring charity Netpol has claimed. 

Speaking to more than 100 witnesses – including protesters, legal observers, and arrestee support volunteers at numerous protests – the “Britain is Not Innocent” report found that police used excessive force and unnecessarily targeted Black protesters. It also claims that kettling techniques were disproportionately used during the BLM protests and that there was a failure of a duty of care when marches were targeted by the far right.

Although the majority of policing was “light-touch”, the report says that protests in Newcastle and London saw police officers “use tactics which provoked and harmed protesters,” such as the use of pepper spray. 

It references numerous instances of discriminatory behaviour by police, such as an injured young Black man being searched by officers after he asked for help, or a Black woman who was knocked unconscious by a police horse during a kettle. In the latter case, a police officer on horseback attempted to control a crowd of peaceful protesters, causing the officer to fall off the horse and for it to charge into the crowd where the woman was injured. 

Diane Abbott, Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, told VICE News: "This report raises serious concerns about the scope and nature of protests involving Black Lives Matter earlier this year. It comes at the same time as a parliamentary report supported by representatives of all parties showed that 85 percent of Black people are not confident that that would be treated the same as white people by the police. Yet ministers and leading officers like Cressida Dick continue to insist there is no institutional racism in the Met or other police forces.”

“As Macpherson suggested all those years ago, they have a duty to listen to those who suffer discrimination, and to take them seriously. It is time they did so,” Abbott added, referencing a report led by retired judge Sir William Macpherson that concluded in 1999 the Metropolitan police of the day was “institutionally racist.”

The Netpol report also draws links between historic racism from the police to present day behaviour towards Black protesters. 

The Black Lives Matter protests, sparked across the globe after the murder of George Floyd, came at a time when coronavirus guidelines contributed to tensions between the police and the Black community. Section 60, which allows police to stop and search individuals without reasonable suspicion, meant an increase in stop and searches across the UK, disproportionately affecting Black people. The vast majority of marches protested police brutality and violence towards Black people. 

Dr Adam Elliott-Cooper, who authored the report, said: “There is a bitter irony in the fact that protests against racism in policing were themselves sites of disproportionate use of force and discriminatory practices. When taken case-by-case, the evidence in this report suggests racially discriminatory policing, but when viewed collectively, there can be little doubt that policing in Britain still has a serious problem with institutional racism.”

VICE News reached out to London’s Metropolitan police – where the largest BLM protests took place but it declined to comment.